Some reflections on wealth and the Kingdom from Church Action for Tax Justice Chair Sue Richardson.
“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25)
This is the second in a series of short reflections for the Advent season exploring some gospel texts about wealth, its creation and its use, our relationship with it and how it causes us to relate to others, as an invitation to some faith-based reflection on our times and our response to them. The intention is to test various understandings of the spirituality of wealth to resource our actions as Church-based organisations seeking the Kingdom of Heaven.
What do we see?
We see thoughts turning towards the coming Christmas season: gifts bought, invitations being issued and celebratory meals planned. We see visitors we did not expect turning up on our shores in difficult and dangerous circumstances, sometimes dying on the last stage of their journey. They are not universally welcomed. We hear that we have no room, no resources to offer them.
We are being urged to accept vaccination against the ever-changing virus, Covid-19, that has made such an impact on our lives, even getting a third ‘booster’ jab, but millions of people in the global South lack access to life-preserving inoculation or the healthcare systems that can deliver its protection, and the richer nations of our world have failed to deliver the vaccines they promised and have obstructed steps towards local production.
Our Government has shaped a national budget that has cut funding to development programmes and humanitarian aid to the global South. In the midst of seeming abundance we are pleading scarcity.
ECCR/CATJ has previously illustrated how taxation can shape society to have the needs of the poorest at its heart. Oliver Wendell Holmes called tax ‘the price we pay for civilisation’.
What do we believe?
Jesus spoke about the requirement for a life of faith to recognise and include the ‘other’. His ministry constantly brought him into contact with people whom his society despised or feared, people who might extort from you or render you impure by their presence or touch. “when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”. (Lk 14:13)
It was for the satisfaction of others that the small boy in John’s version of the Feeding of the Five Thousand brings out his five loaves and two fish not realising the smallness of his offering, but trusting that it would meet the need. Scarcity is transformed into abundance by generosity.
We read: The parable of the rich man and Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31)
What strikes you first from this passage?
Could it be the emphasis on space, distance and the physical situation in the description of the two main characters? As the narrative progresses this space is restructured and reshaped. At first the rich man and Lazarus are physically close but distanced by their life experience. The rich man in his home with a beggar at his gate poses a fundamental question. How can you be unaware of someone in dire straits on your own doorstep unless you are wilfully blind to the implications for your lifestyle and expectations? The rich man cannot plead ignorance as later we hear him refer to Lazarus by name.
The beggar is part of the rich man’s world even if circumstances exclude him from participation. He longs to have his basic needs met by what the other not only could spare, but for whom the desired leftovers would probably be seen as waste to be eaten by those same dogs who notice this needy beggar.
Then, suddenly, we are in the afterlife and positions are reversed. It is the rich man who suffers and yearns for succour. It is not Lazurus but the patriarch Abraham who points out the impossibility of connection across the void. These two men are no longer in each other’s ambit, there can be no redress even if there is a painful realisation.
Even as awareness of the permanence of his plight dawns on him the rich man cannot free himself from the attitudes and expectations of his earthly experience. “Send Lazarus”, he commands, both to bring relief to himself and later to warn his brothers. There is no sign of repentance here; the rich man’s concern is still for his people, his immediate family who presumably enjoy wealth and status as he did.
Abraham is not harsh. He calls the rich man “My son”, but he is firm about the demands of faith and the practice of it. Concern for the poor is non-negotiable in the Law and the teaching of the prophets. The moment to act in proximity as neighbour is gone. Now there is only a gulf of regret for a life lived with no concern for the other.
Zygmund Bauman in an essay in The Moral Universe reflects on the way a globalised world has expanded our doorstep. We cannot claim ignorance in the face of media coverage of poverty and injustice, even when it is out of our immediate view. The question for us is how to respond, and not only with acts of personal kindness, but with the communal commitment to policy and politics that narrow the gap between those living with more than they need and those yearning for leftovers.
“Lord, when did we see you hungry and thirsty,… a stranger and did not welcome you?” (Matt. 25:44)